Hostages | 2/3/2009 12:00:00 AM
Alan Jara, finally free
The kidnapping of the former governor of Meta province by the FARC was interpreted by the international community as a travesty. This is his story.
Jara had just finished his period as Meta province governor and was working with the United Nations. That day, he was on a vehicle of the international organization coming back from inaugurating a couple of projects.
The fact that Jara was traveling on a UN vehicle was no obstacle for the FARC to stop it and force the former governor out of it. According to the guerrillas, the politician was going to be taken to a popular trial for him to explain his alleged bonds with the paramilitary and a supposed implication in the deaths of several popular leaders of the region.
At the time, the people who worked with Jara declared that the FARC’s excuse was absurd, given that he had been closer to the left political wing rather than the right. His leftist inclination began during his studies at the Engineering and Construction Institute in Kiev, former Soviet Union and now capital of Ukraine, and during his political career, he had focused his actions in working with poor communities in Villavicencio (capital of Meta province).
Days after Jara was taken hostage, it was said that the real reason for his abduction was that he had refused to hand in contracts to the FARC, and that the whole action was a defiance to the international community. Only five days before his kidnapping, NGOs and international organizations had declared their critical position towards the inhuman actions by the FARC.
on July 10 2001, the NGO Human Rights Watch sent a letter to ‘Manuel Marulanda Vélez’, FARC’s chief, complaining about the constant violations of the International Humanitarian Law by that guerrilla group. When journalists in El Caguán (negotiating area in the Colombian territory at the time), asked ‘Marulanda Vélez’ about the letter, he denied having received it. A week later Jara was kidnapped.
At first, it was thought that the FARC would reconsider its mistake and free the politician. Nevertheless, it didn't happen and the guerrilla group asked the UN to explain its relationship with someone they considered to be related to the paramilitary.
Since then, Jara’s days have passed in the jungle, away from his wife, Claudia Rugeles, who has lived with the uncertainty of her husband's condition. During all these years, his family has had sad events such as the death of Jara's mother in 2002 after a long struggle with cancer. There have been happy moments too, like in 2003 when Alan Felipe, his 15-year old son, became the province’s table tennis champion.
In his ordeal he has kept his thoughts free, the only part of him the FARC can’t kidnap. That's why he became an English and Russian language teacher in the jungle. Often, during his classes, the first thing he does is discuss the news everyone has heard on the radio. Coronel Mendieta, another kidnap victim and one of the best in the English lessons, leads the debate and, more often than it should be, starts with the sentence, "About the humanitarian agreement there is no news".
But everything has changed now and February the 3rd 2009 will always be remembered by Alan Jara, his family and friends. He will no longer be teaching English and Russian in the jungle. He is now back home. “I’m free, I had been resting for seven a half years, now I come to work for them (the rest of the hostages)”, he said upon his release. “I’m fine, but I’m sick”, he also said.
His students may miss him and his lessons, but his image will become an inspiration of freedom and the symbol of hope.